Burning down Biology, How Agile made us better scientists – Dr. Oliver Severn


We rolled out sprint style work, and agile project management, and applied it to biological research.


Our lab was sick of missing deadlines, falling short of delivery, and guessing how long it would take to hit key milestones. We ‘experimented’ rolling out software style sprint work on biological ‘experiments’.


Sprints attempt to remove unknown issues that might arise during a project, by working on high risk experiments early, and learning from them before making big decisions. But what if those unknowns are about the lifecycle of yeast, the mutation of industrial strains, and taking images of the internal workings of cells?


We had no idea if it would work, or even if Agile was appropriate for peeling back the curtain of nature and taking a look at what makes it all work. It turns out, dealing with unknowns and risks in software projects, isn’t too dissimilar to the world of biology!


In this session I aim to take the audience through the research work we perform, and show how we had to rewire our way of thinking to apply agile in a completely different context. In our group we think we are one of the few researchers applying agile in this way, and we are passionate to get the word out to other groups struggling with archaic and inappropriate work management styles.


I’m hoping this will give a fresh perspective on familiar ideas, and even inspire others working on complex projects to think again about agile.


We still believe agile is the key to better utilisation of funding in academic contexts, and vastly improved predictability in biological research projects!





Agile on the Beach is a leading annual conference in Falmouth, Cornwall UK. Since 2011 Agile on the Beach has been a two day agile conference, set on the Cornish coast with a beach party in between. The conference explores agile software, products, teams, business and practices. With over 400 attending, the conference hosts 50 seminars and workshops to provide the ultimate agile learning experience, along with ample opportunities for networking at its three evening events.




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